Vicki Johnson is a lawyer, an active member of her community in
Decatur, GA, and mom to one adorable six-year-old little girl. She
started playing drums after attending Ladies Rock Camp in Atlanta, and
it has become not only a passion, but a way to show her daughter that
part of being a good parent is taking time for yourself to do
something you love.
By Jamie Choi
Tom Tom Magazine: How long have you been playing drums?
Vicki Johnson: I have only been playing regularly on a drum kit since Ladies Rock Camp ATL 2010, in March of last year. Other than that I was the ultimate band geek many years ago in jr. high and high school, but I didn’t play drums. I played clarinet during concert season and I was drum major, leading the band, during marching season. I liked to hang out with the drum line, and they would teach me rhythms and sticking.
They gave me a pair of sticks, which I played with at home on various inanimate objects, driving my mom crazy as I recall.
Tom Tom Magazine: What or who gave you the inspiration to start playing?
Vicki Johnson: My six year old daughter inspired me to drumming greatness, and not, as you might imagine, because she is a drummer in a punk band. I spent
her first five years as a single parent, really doing everything I could to create the best possible life for her. I moved to ATL when she was a baby so she could grow up close to her grandparents, and so I could raise her in the very kid-centered community of Decatur, GA, vs. the very adult-centered life I was living in Washington, DC. It has been an amazing place for us, but parenting can be complicated. At some point you realize, part of being a good parent is being a good role model for your child, including participating in your own happiness. I realized I wanted her to see me doing things I loved and enjoyed, that it was not just doing for her, but I needed to do for myself.
I first got the notion that drumming had a role in that when I
volunteered for Girls Rock Camp ATL 2009. I went to a women’s college
(Smith) so when I heard about the camp and its emphasis on empowering girls as well as on the music, I knew it was something I had to get involved with. I volunteered as a roadie for camp that summer. On
showcase night, when all the campers and volunteers end the night by singing the rock camp anthem, my friend Becky Shaw jumped on the drum kit and rocked it: a light clicked on in my head and I knew I had to play the drums.
TTM: What genre(s) of music do you like to play?
VJ: I love all kinds of music. My other instrument is a banjo if that
tells you anything. I have to say though that the band of my dreams is a feminist punk band. I’m still working on that. I meet up once a month to play with the ladies from rock camp at our “Monthly Cycle Jam Session” and we play everything under the sun. I just keep up with whatever they dream up. It’s a blast. We are starting to meet more frequently, so maybe we can dig into more original music. Right now we are all learning our instruments and mostly work on covers.
TTM: What songs do you really like to play along to?
VJ: I love cranking up 80s rockers like Joan Jett and Blondie and punk bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Hole and the Ramones. Occasionally my partner, who is a classically trained singer and folk songwriter, will indulge me by plugging in her acoustic guitar and singing Bonnie Raitt tunes for me to play along with.
TTM: How would you describe your drumming style?
VJ: Everything I know stylistically I learned from watching Animal on The
TTM: As a relatively new drummer, what would you say is your biggest challenge learning this instrument?
VJ: Well, on the plus side I will say having some musical background helped me pick up the rhythms fairly quickly, and also I have never been afraid to make noise, which is an important trait in a new drummer. My biggest challenge has been prioritizing it into my daily life. I have so much fun drumming and it energizes me and makes me happy, but when you don’t have a band, or even other instrumentalists there with you, it is hard to justify the time when there are so many competing priorities: full time job, a young child, volunteering, etc. My drum teacher keeps me on task though.
TTM: How does having an instructor help with the process?
VJ: I am incredibly lucky to work with one of the most talented female drummers around, Linda Bolley. She is energetic and enthusiastic, even when I show up at my lesson and I’ve had a hard week or haven’t had time to practice. She is very intuitive about that and seems to be able to figure out what will work at any given lesson to teach me something, whether its playing on side by side kits, or making me do exercises out of a book or just teaching me some drum fills. She keeps it interesting and fun, and reminds me that I can do whatever I set my mind to do.
TTM: Who are your top three favorite drummers?
1. My drum instructor Linda Bolley has to be my favorite drummer for all the reasons I have already mentioned and for her sheer skill on the instrument. She plays with tremendous confidence and energy such that you can’t help but want to play along and aspire to greatness. She has played with some of the great acts out of Atlanta and is currently drummer for Herman Put Down The Gun.
2. When I first started drumming, I only had my kid’s child-sized drumkit to practice on. I am fairly tall so it was at once hilarious and sad. When he found out about it, my friend Dario Stanzini, a rock drummer in Virginia, generously insisted that I take his early 70’s
Ludwig Vistalite Hollywood kit he’s played on since high school to use until I get my own. He saved my budding drumming career.
3. My friend Laurie Hoffman, a fellow rock camper, is also one of my favorite drummers because she has such a passion for the instrument and for learning everything she can about it. Starting a new instrument, as we both have done well into adulthood, is a brave and daunting task, I’m just sayin’.
TTM: Any upcoming events or shows coming up where we can hear you play?
VJ: You guessed it, you can see me and my band at the showcase for Ladies
Rock Camp ATL 2011 at The Five Spot in Little 5 Points, Atlanta, on Sunday afternoon, February 20, 2011.
Thanks, Vicki, for the nod to my wife, Laurie. As you said, she’s worked hard, and your praise means the world to her. It’ll keep her going for another year, at least. Best of luck with the band!
This interview truly speaks to me. I started playing drums at Ladies Rock Camp in NYC three years ago when my son was two. Now I practice weekly with my two bands and gig regularly. I am my happiest when I am behind the kit. I can’t stop smiling when I play. It’s really nice to have a “thing” all my own and I agree 100% that I am a better role model for my son for having a passion of my own. He loves that his mom is in bands…he’s just mad that he can’t come to my late night gigs. Ladies Rock Camp changed my life and I highly recommend it for women of any age (19 and over). http://www.williemaerockcamp.org
Thanks Tom Tom and thanks Vicki for being brave and fierce! Girls Rock Camp ATL still has spaces open for Ladies Rock Camp, Feb. 18 – 20. For info and to sign up, visit: